‘Water is life’ for… the Privileged

10:15 13.08.2023 •

A new unexpected political problem has appeared In the United States – clean water!

As the heatwave intensifies across the country, as workers exposed to the heat collapse on the job in increasing numbers — some of them die — Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas has signed a law nullifying local ordinances in the state that require 10-minute heat and water breaks for those who work in the sun, Counter Punch informs.

Water is life! Yeah, so what, says Abbott and those who support this law. Critics call it the Death Star Law.

Texas Rep. Greg Casar, who recently staged a nine-hour thirst strike on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in protest of such laws — such indifference to the health and lives of so many American workers — said that Abbott, along with other GOP governors like Ron De Santis, “are participating in the cruelty Olympics, trying to outdo each other.”

These are deeply troubling times, and no doubt there are matters of greater peril for humanity than the right of construction and other workers to drink water on the job.

As the Texas Observer noted: “Climate scientists have projected that Texas summers will get increasingly hot if climate change continues, exacerbating the public health risk. For every heat-related workplace death, dozens more workers fall ill. Since 2011, the state has seen at least 42 heat-related deaths on the job, and at least 4,030 incidents of heat-related illness, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

To think about this beyond the statistics, consider the death of Roendy Granillo, age 25, a Texas construction worker who began feeling ill at work. He was ignored, told to keep working, and eventually collapsed on the job. He died at the hospital.

we just got through the hottest July in recorded history, and the reaction of (primarily) Republican politicians has been to push back against humane legal intervention, meant to protect workers and others most vulnerable to the heatwave.

What do we value? Do we value life or do we value profit? If the latter is true, we’re doomed. We will ignore, not address, the looming climate disaster and other deep dangers, such as nuclear war.

Ignoring these looming disasters is a crime against humanity — whatever that means. The United Nations’ Office of Genocide Protection addresses that very question, noting that many scholars trace the root of the concept to the late 18th century, in reference to slavery and the slave trade, as well as the atrocities of European colonialism in Africa and elsewhere.

Slavery! Somehow that seems to fit into the issue. The horror of slavery — the dehumanization of millions of people — is more than just numbers. It boils down to cruelty against individuals.

Denying a worker a water break, especially as the days get mercilessly hotter, sounds like some leftover cruelty from the slave era: a crime against humanity, especially when you factor in the racism.

And then the New York Times, writing recently about life in Latino border communities, known as ‘colonias’, talked about the continual water shutoffs the residents are enduring, and then, when the water came back on, they are warned to boil it before using it. “You could not trust the water when we needed it the most, if we had it at all,” one girl said, adding: “I’m afraid to take a shower or even splash water on my face. We were told not to let water get into our eyes.”

And as her father pointed out: “You drive around the block, and you see the carwashes using all of this water, but there is no water for a mother and her two children? How is that possible?”


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